Case study

Surfers Against Sewage

Surfers Against Sewage fights to protect oceans, beaches and wildlife, inspiring and empowering communities to take action through four campaign areas. One is plastic pollution and its campaign goal is to end single use plastic pollution on beaches by 2030.  Through its Plastic Free Communities campaign, Surfers Against Sewage brings people together locally to reduce single-use plastic consumption and change the way we live in support of this ambition.


Insley Consulting evaluated the impact of the campaign and set up methods for the charity to evaluate it on an ongoing basis.

The Challenge

The end of a three-year funding cycle required the Plastic Free Communities campaign team to calculate and demonstrate its impact on single-use plastic reduction and the people and communities participating. The team needed to make sense of the reams of data already collected and add to the evidence base in order to assess the campaign’s social impact. They also need to work out how best to monitor and evaluate it going forward. 

The team knew that different forms of plastic had been eliminated across their 867 local communities. However, while they had some numbers gathered through a dashboard, there was no defined way to calculate the amount of plastic reduced or the social impact of the campaign. In short, they had no quantifiable measure of the difference they were making. 

The two-person team at Surfers Against Sewage lacked the capacity to carry out this work internally, so sought the rigour and expertise brought by an independent partner.

Insley Consulting was commissioned to examine the current data, conduct research to evaluate the impact of the campaign, and put in place new systems to measure social and environmental impact going forward.

“We knew that our community leads were making a difference. We had plenty of data, but we lacked the capacity to interrogate it and evaluate the impact our communities were making.”

Plastic Free Communities Manager

The Solution


The starting point was to examine the data already collected via the dashboard from local Community Leads.

There was plenty of data. This was a big data exercise.


We conducted additional research through a survey and interviews with volunteer Community Leads, businesses and community groups participating in the campaign. This enabled us to gather the data needed to estimate the amount of plastic that had been eliminated and understand the benefits of the campaign on community cohesion, as well as other environmental initiatives it may have inspired.


Big numbers can have little meaning. When generating estimates of single-use plastics eliminated, we needed a way to bring the data to life and for it to be understood by an audience.

We got creative and deployed our analytical skills to help people visualise the impact of the campaign based on the number of swimming pools that could be filled with plastic cups and bottles that had not been used thanks to the efforts of participating communities.


Too many organisations can fall foul of over-ambitious and impractical measures – or only report on what they do, which fails to convey the difference made.

Our consultancy support usually includes strengthening organisational capacity to evaluate services going forward so we helped Surfers Against Sewage to make their dashboard more user-friendly. We also set up a survey that could be used in future years and provided training to help evidence the campaign’s impact locally and across the country.


Our evaluation report included recommendations to develop and grow the campaign, as well as the much-needed data that would be used in the external impact report published by Surfers Against Sewage for its Community Leads, supporters and the wider public. 

Emma grasped the complexity of data collection and interpretation immediately and, more than that, took us further with our thinking than we thought possible.

The Result

The initial analysis showed that participating communities are responsible for saving 43 million items of plastic, including enough bottles and cups to fill a 25-metre swimming pool 14 times over.

The reduction in single-use plastic is good news for the environment. However, the campaign offers far more than this.

Our evaluation shows that participating in the campaign helped to strengthen community cohesion and build a sense of local pride and purpose.

Now armed with a dashboard, annual survey and training, Surfers Against Sewage and Community Leads can now monitor and evaluate the national and local impact of Plastic Free Communities on an ongoing basis.

Looking forward, Surfers Against Sewage now has:

  • A set of data, impact statements and visual representations to convey the difference made.
  • An in-depth evaluation report that formed the basis of an impact report that is shared widely.
  • An engaging and easy-to-update dashboard to ensure ongoing data collection and evaluation.
  • Additional tools that reflect the work of its empowered and engaged community.
  • Self-sufficiency through a local survey and reporting functionality and the capability for local impact analysis.
  • An assessment of the difficult-to-measure personal and community benefits beyond that of reducing single-use plastic.


“Our work makes an impact on single-use plastic. We now have a more robust and credible way to monitor and evaluate this. Emma dug deep into our data, already knowing how it could be analysed and how to best communicate our difference.

She helped to build the understanding of the difference made through the campaign and our confidence in the impact we are making. More than this, she has left a legacy of self-sufficiency; an enhanced dashboard, local survey capability and food for thought for future growth.”

Download the Plastic Free Communities’ impact report here.


*Credit for all images used on this page: Surfers Against Sewage



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